Article | 13 min read

Solution selling definition and techniques: The complete guide

Making a purchase is a no-brainer, if it solves a problem. Solution selling is about connecting clients to the best solution for their particular issue.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published April 21, 2022
Last updated July 12, 2022

A common issue in the sales industry is that some salespeople fixate on selling their product or service without considering whether it will actually help the customer. It’s kind of like a waiter at a diner who brings you the special of the day without even asking what you’re in the mood for—and then still presents you with a full bill.

Solution selling is a decades-old sales methodology that involves a more empathetic approach to sales. It posits that connecting clients with the right solution for their problems is the best way to secure a long-term, loyal customer.

When sales teams master this strategy, they can better solve their prospects’ problems, develop enticing tactics to increase sales, and ultimately build stronger relationships with their clients.

In this article, we’ll explain solution selling and describe the benefits. Then, we’ll explore the six stages in a solution sales process and the techniques you can use to launch your approach to solution sales.

What is solution selling?

Solution selling is a sales methodology wherein salespeople consider the needs of their prospects and recommend products or services that can best solve their problems. To do this, they need a deep understanding of their target customers and their pain points.

Essentially, solution selling requires sales reps to dig into the true needs of their potential buyers, rather than approaching every sale as an opportunity to push a specific product. Leading with the product is known as product selling, which differs from solution selling in a few ways.

How does solution selling differ from product selling?

solution selling vs. product selling, two different chess pieces

Product selling is what most people think of when they imagine “salespeople”—those charismatic door-to-door Tupperware and essential-oil pushers. Regardless of someone’s need for Tupperware or essential oils, a salesperson with a product selling approach will attempt to convince a prospect that their product is necessary, valuable, and better than the ones offered by competitors. This often results in sales pitches based on product features and pricing options, without any consideration for the potential customer’s actual needs.

Solution selling doesn’t focus on the product at first. Instead, it involves a more consultative selling approach that shows what the product can do for a prospect to make their lives easier. Rather than discussing specs and features, reps using solution selling will identify their prospects’ problems and then guide them to the solution that best solves those issues.

Pros and cons of solution selling

No selling strategy is a perfect fit for every sales team—there are unique benefits and drawbacks that can make some strategies more useful in certain industries than others. Solution selling is no exception.

If you’re thinking about using this sales strategy, here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind.

Pro: It illustrates value

The main goal of solution selling is to demonstrate how your company’s product or service can tangibly alleviate your prospects’ specific pain points.

Rather than simply giving someone a product catalog and asking them to buy a stock product or service that might not meet their needs, reps using solution selling help their potential customers identify their pain points and the negative impacts they’re having. Only then can you truly illustrate just how much they stand to gain by investing in your solution—which makes them much more motivated to buy it.

Pro: It builds stronger customer relationships

Sales reps using solution selling look at the problem first and then recommend products or services that can resolve that issue. This type of relationship selling focuses more on building trust and rapport rather than on aggressive selling techniques.

Customers don’t appreciate generic or pushy sales tactics, and solution selling can be a good antidote to falling into those traps. When you know exactly what your lead struggles with and how it impacts their lives, you create opportunities to build trust, develop long-standing relationships, and open up more opportunities for upselling, cross-selling, and positive word-of-mouth referrals in the future.

Con: It requires a lot of research

Solution sales reps have a two-part challenge: They need to know everything that their suite of products and services can provide, and they need to understand exactly what each prospect is looking for.

Reps can take notes and make cheat sheets, but to effectively solution sell, they must be able to direct prospects to the exact product or service that can fix their problem. This requires research—both interpersonal and technical.

Con: It’s not a sales process you can fully plan out

Because solution selling strategies are tailored to each lead, you can’t predict consumer behavior at all times. This means there’s no script or checklist that you can give to your sales reps to guide them along the sales funnel. The solution sales process requires sales reps to think on the fly and plan in between touchpoints to provide their prospects with a compelling offer.

When should I use solution selling?

Solution selling can be an effective tactic for any prospect, but it’s most appropriate when you’re dealing with customers who need unique solutions and/or support. On the sales side, that means solution sales are most impactful when the salesperson has a variety of products or packages to offer their prospects.

Instead of pushing one type of product or service onto potential customers, solution sales teams will research what their prospects need and how they can offer a solution throughout the buyer’s journey. Oftentimes, this means customizing packages and meeting the prospect where they are.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

What are the steps in the solution selling process?

steps in the solution selling process, robot walking up steps

Rarely does the wheel need to be reinvented, and solution selling is no different. The ideas behind solution selling start with a sales process similar to traditional methods of selling. But like all derivatives, this methodology has key differences that make it unlike the rest.

While different sales teams have their own strategies for the solution selling process, there are six basic steps in the solution selling sales journey.

1. Understand your product or service

It’s hard to make a sale if you don’t fully understand what your company offers. One of the top sales skills is knowing your company’s product or service inside and out so you can sell it with confidence.

Before developing a solution selling strategy, your sales reps must know exactly what they’re selling. Form a consensus about the value selling propositions and unique selling points, and make sure your reps are using similar language to describe your offerings. This is critical in ensuring you and your sales team are communicating the same core message to prospective clients.

To store and share this vital information, build a knowledge base—a digital library containing all institutional knowledge like spec sheets and product descriptions. Many CRM software solutions and customer service platforms include knowledge base tools.

In addition to having the right resources, it’s important to educate yourself and your team on how to sell with competitors in mind. If you’re driving home selling points that other companies specialize in, you’ll find it much harder to keep your leads interested in your product or service.

2. Qualify your leads

Once you’ve got an iron-tight grasp of what you’re selling, the next step is to find the leads who are best suited to make use of it. Not everyone needs your product, so don’t waste your time pitching it to prospects who will never make a purchase. The key to maintaining a healthy customer base is identifying and targeting specific buyer personas, which is something even small businesses can do with the right CRM.

Identifying the appropriate buyer isn’t only about finding the people who need your product. When it comes to B2B sales, it’s also critical to pinpoint the people who have the power to say yes. B2B salespeople don’t always speak to decision-makers upon first outreach. Solution selling involves knowing who you’re selling to so you don’t spend time and energy on someone who wants to say yes but lacks authority.

3. Identify your potential customer’s needs

Many clients have unique needs, and it’s important to discover them before you start putting solutions on their radar.

To determine every need your leads may have, compile a list of questions designed to highlight their pain points. Start with the information from your buyer persona and then branch out into more specific areas where your products or services can help.

Active listening skills play a key role here, and having a system for recording and storing customer data is crucial. By gathering information about prospect behavior and preferences, you can build a buyer-seller relationship that doesn’t feel overwhelming or generic.

4. Show your prospects what they’re missing

This is where solution selling diverts from the traditional sales process.

Using a Challenger sales methodology, you’d tell your leads why their issues are holding them back. But with solution sales, you let them connect the dots through questions and careful listening. You can do this yourself by using the SPIN selling technique, which uses certain types of questions to unearth pain points.

To help leads find possible solutions for their pain points, formulate questions that do the following:

  1. Highlight a problem or challenge in their lives or business.
  2. Show that it’s a fixable issue.
  3. Determine whether they have plans to solve it.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of what these questions might look like.

Solution selling questions

  • “We often see clients in the accounting industry struggle with data organization. What steps have you put in place to keep your team’s data in order?”
  • “Legal teams need airtight cybersecurity to keep clients’ information safe. Do you have any software that helps prevent this data from getting into the wrong hands?”
  • “Food processing systems like these are nearly impossible to fully clean. What does your cleaning procedure look like for your system?”
  • “Real estate is not a stable industry, so most agencies can find it hard to set realistic goals. What sort of plans do you have in place to grow your business?”

Once you’ve identified your ideal buyer as well as their pain points—both the ones they came to you with and the ones you helped them discover—it’s time to frame your product or service as the right solution.

5. Present your product’s value

The main goal of solution selling is to show your potential buyers why your company’s product or service is the best solution for their problems.

With solution-based value selling strategies, there’s no need to highlight product specs and descriptions right out of the gate. At every stage in the process, you’ll already be painting an image of what the right solution to their issue looks like—you just haven’t slapped your brand on it yet. At last, it’s time to pitch your company’s product or service.

To present your value, share case studies and customer stories that illustrate how your solution has helped others in the past. Know what your competitors offer, and be ready to demonstrate how your value exceeds theirs—either because your prices are more affordable or because your higher price tag is worth it in the long run.

6. Close the sale

The main obstacle in this final stage is overcoming any sales objections. Before handing over a credit card number or signing a contract, many buyers will want to make sure the investment is everything it promises, which means you need to be prepared.

The best way to handle objections and close a sale is to know which objections have been raised in the past—and how they were rebutted. Review sales call transcripts and interactions for clues, and don’t be afraid to update your sales presentation with new tactics.

One useful idea is to steer the conversation in the direction of the most common objections and offer your rebuttal at the same time. That way, you maintain control of the conversation while also addressing one of their concerns—before they have a chance to spring it on you when you might not be prepared.

Now that we’ve reviewed the six stages, let’s take a look at a few techniques to keep in mind during the solution selling process.

Top solution-based selling techniques

If you think the solution selling methodology is the right approach for your business or sales team, check out these effective solution-based selling techniques to boost your sales and build longer-lasting customer relationships.

  • Create a sales need analysis

    sales need analysis, magnifying glass

    A sales need analysis (or assessment) is a tool that enables you to gather information about potential customers and what they’re struggling with. They’re typically done through an online web form, questionnaire, quiz, or discovery call. A well-crafted analysis will be engaging enough to entice prospects to spend the time doing it and will also tell you if that individual fits your ideal buyer persona.

    A sales need analysis also provides you and your sales reps with inspiration for future talking points. By comparing the answers from your needs assessment with best practices in your industry, you can craft a sales pitch that directly caters to your ideal customer’s pain points.

  • Form a connection

    form a connection, handshake

    Due to unfortunate stereotypes, salespeople aren’t the most trusted group of folks. Only 18 percent of salespeople that buyers meet with are seen as trusted advisers. And if there’s no trust, there’s little chance of a sale. That’s why when it comes to selling solutions, it’s important to form a strong connection with your potential buyer and do everything you can to ensure that they don’t feel like fish in a barrel.

    Following a personal selling methodology isn’t easy when things like commission and promotions are on the line. To form a trusting connection that enables you to nail your upselling and cross-selling, it helps to have a stable and repeatable sales process. Lay out a clear step-by-step sequence for identifying the right people, getting the right information, and handing them the right solution. Trust will come naturally.

  • Uncover a problem, sell a solution

    Uncover a problem, sell a solution, shopping cart

    Clients typically don’t buy solutions to problems they don’t think they have. But not all problems are obvious. With solution selling, you’re not creating their problem—you’re shining a light into the dark corners where those problems might be lurking.

    Come to every sales call or meeting armed with questions about the prospect’s day-to-day tasks and operations. Rather than jumping to conclusions about what their challenges are, get them talking about the issues that may be lying under the surface so you can introduce your product or service as the perfect solution.

Solution selling with a strong CRM

When it comes to the solution-based selling approach, your team needs to handle a lot of data. Between company information, customer pain points, meeting notes, sales performance, and product details, you can’t afford to lose track of a single piece of data.

Zendesk Sell helps you keep all your customer information organized in one place so you can maintain a large volume of clients without losing a personalized touch. It also enables you to automate repetitive tasks such as sales follow-ups and meeting scheduling through a sales engagement platform. That way, you can focus on what truly seals the deal: sales skills and savvy strategy.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

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